Some movies are good because they don’t futz around and just give us what we want. Riddick is one of these films.
From the opening scene straight through to the end, it keeps a consistent, steady drumbeat of action interspersed with amusing, banter filled scenes that are a real joy. This serves the movie well as a whole and translates into a nicely balanced viewing experience with very little lag in between. Not being one for spoilers, I choose to break a movie down by what it does right and what it does wrong and leave the blow by blow accounts for others.
Riddick gets the casting right. Vin Diesel seems tailor made for the lead role, both physically and on approach regarding acting choices. Could have something to do with the close association creatively he shares with creator/director David Twohy. Whatever the case, he manages to hit all the right notes with some tricky dialogue. Another actor not geared the way Diesel is (I swear, no clever wordplay intended) might push it into the hammy or overblown. Charlie Hunnam comes to mind readily as an underachiever at delivering tough guy lines. Diesel, though, sells it completely.
Same goes for the supporting cast of mercenary bounty hunters. Jordi Molla as Santana, is the viscous leader of a near piratical mercenary group. Molla plays the amoral captain with a refreshingly one dimensional approach. Santana is an anti-social, killer/rapist with a barely contained yellow streak. No attempt is made at any nuance or understanding of his motivations, he is who he is and approaches his job as you would expect. As a viewer, we are both entertained by him, but fully anticipating his grisly end.
Mathew Nable and Katee Sackhoff head up the second, more professional team. Being late arrivals on the Riddick bounty claim, their team takes a strategic backseat and allows Molla and his crew to play the role of cannon fodder as they observe Riddick’s tactics. Both Nable and Sackhoff play well off each other and their mutual respect as squad mates is another nice reminder of just how different both teams are in organization and approach.
Visually the movie was fine, nothing really stood out for me as a particularly amazing shot, but it was all well handled. The special effects and creature creation was good. Nothing on the level of Avatar but also nothing jarringly bad like I am Legend.
Writing and direction were equally well done. I have to praise Twohy for learning his lesson on Chronicles of Riddick and avoiding getting off point and roaming to far afield into the expanded Riddickverse. Getting back to basics and not trying to make the movie more that it had to be. The action is superb, with a nice mix of both hand to hand and gunplay. Also his portrayal of the mercs as workmanlike professionals, of varying degrees of course but equally driven by the job, is always appreciated. This portrayal no doubt helps in the delivery of the aforementioned tricky delivery of the writing. Because only guys like this, could talk like that and get away with it.
As you can tell, I was really taken with the style of this movie and it’s writing in particular. I’ve read some reviews trashing that writing and am somewhat perplexed. Sure it’s full of misogynistic references toward Sackhoff’s character. Sure it’s violent and it’s boastful and it’s bombastic. And yes, it infuses a brand of hardboiled grit that dirties up the dialogue. But that’s kind of the point. As I hinted at before, this is not a utopia with well mannered, sophisticated inhabitants. It’s savage universe full of savage, lawless, dirty people whose language is a direct byproduct of their existence. Bottom line, it sounded exactly the way I would expect.
What the movie got wrong is a pretty small list. Could have been about 20 minutes shorter. I was disappointed to see a shaky cam fight sequence towards the end, where the movie did a great job of avoiding until then. Seriously, there should be a movement to shame directors into avoiding the use of the shaky cam. Like the talk box in rock, the quicker it falls out of favor the better. And the mirroring of Pitch Black the way it did certainly took us down a familiar road of been there done that. But at least for me, it had been long enough that I didn’t care and it felt fresh.
So Riddick is in no way a groundbreaking achievement in sci-fi cinema, but it wasn’t intended to be. Unlike Prometheus, it didn’t attempt to blow our minds with secrets of cosmic revelation and end up a confusing and silly mess. Unlike Elysium, it had the good sense to stay grounded and try not to elevate beyond its ugly roots. Riddick stayed true to itself, and in the end, that’s all I wanted out of this little gem of a movie.